Mormonism and Napster for Nerds

The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) has been described as “Napster for nerds,” and it has some things to say about Mormonism. SSRN is basically a massive online clearing house for papers in the social sciences, although in reality its content seems to be heavily tilted toward economics, business, and law. It is a fairly easy matter to create an account with SSRN and upload paper, and many professors use SSRN to distribute copies of their working papers and of their published papers. (For example, Gordon, Kaimi, and myself all have SSRN pages.) As it happens, a couple of papers related to Mormonism have appeared on SSRN. I include the abstracts below. If you are interested in downloading the papers, all that you need to do is go through a very brief sign-up procedure, and you are in business.

Robert W. McGee, “Is It Unethical to Evade Taxes in an Evil or Corrupt State? A Look at Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Mormon and Baha’i Perspectives” . Journal of Accounting, Ethics & Public Policy, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 149-181, Winter 1999

The ethics of tax evasion has been a neglected topic in both the accounting and ethical literature. Until recently, not much has appeared on this topic. The present article reviews the recent literature, focusing on the question of whether tax evasion is unethical in an evil or corrupt state. The author concludes by giving his own views on the subject.

Leti Volpp, “Blaming Culture for Bad Behavior,” Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Vol. 12, P. 89, 2000

This essay examines cases of both voluntary and forced marriages of teenagers to older men, and analyzes the different narratives that emerge when the actors are white Americans and immigrants of color. In Texas, a fourteen-year-old woman and twenty-two-year-old man who were Mexican immigrants were considered to have a common law marriage that served as a defense to a charge of statutory rape. This marriage was understood to be a product of “Mexican culture,” even though Texas culture, as embodied in statute, resolved the case. In contrast, when in Maryland a thirteen-year-old married a twenty-nine-year-old man in a formal marriage, the marriage was not considered to be a product of a classless “white culture.” The essay then examines two cases of forced marriage of adolescents, the first involving two teenaged sisters, forced by their Iraqi immigrant father to marry older men; the second involving a fifteen-year-old in a splinter Mormon sect forced by her father to marry her uncle as his fifteenth wife. The first case was depicted as illustrating a multiculturalism run amok; the second, while condemned, was not similarly considered to threaten long-standing American values. The essay examines why people of color are more likely thought to be governed by cultural dictates, so that “bad behavior” is selectively blamed on culture. It discusses how this assumption facilitates the presumption that feminism and multiculturalism are values that lie in tension, and concludes by arguing that the equation of racialized immigrant culture with sex subordination exaggerates the prevalence of sex subordination in immigrant communities at the expense of recognizing the universality of gendered subordination.

Eve D`Onofrio, “Child Brides, Inegalitarianism, and the Fundamentalist Polygamous Family in the United States” (December 2005). International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, Vol. 19, Issue 3, pp. 373-394, 2005

Despite the ongoing shift in contemporary notions of what or who constitutes a family, the idea of the polygamous family remains on the margins of what is deemed a legitimate marital and familial structure in liberal democratic societies such as the US. Nevertheless, despite the illegality of polygamy and the social stigma attacted to it, thousands of Mormon Fundamentalist polygamists live and practice in the US. This article assesses the arguments in favor of and against the legalization and, consequently, the legitimatization of polygamous marriage. It explores three grounds polygamists have employed or could employ to advocate legalization of the practice of plural marriage: freedom of religion, sexual privacy (as defined by the recent case of Lawrence v. Texas), and contractualism. However, the author concludes that the impact of the Fundamentalist polygamous lifestyle on the autonomy, integrity, and equality of adult women and children is sufficiently troubling that lifting the sanction on plural marriage may run counter to basic considerations of justice.

Gordon B. Dahl & Michael R. Ransom, “Does Where You Stand Depend on Where You Sit?: Tithing Donations and Self-Serving Beliefs,” American Economic Review, Vol. 89, No. 4, pp. 703-727, September 1999

Economists and psychologists argue that individuals skew personal beliefs to accord with their own interests. To test for the presence of self-serving beliefs, we surveyed 1,200 members of the Mormon church about their practice of tithing. A tithe is a voluntary contribution equal to ten percent of income. Since respondents must decide privately what income items to tithe, we observe how the income definition depends on an individual’s religious and financial incentives. We find surprisingly little evidence that an individual’s financial situation influences beliefs about what counts as income for the tithe. However, ambiguity increases the role for self-serving biases.

Nathan B. Oman, “The Story of a Forgotten Battle” . Brigham Young University Law Review, p. 745, 2002

In her book THE MORMON QUESTION, Sarah Barringer Gordon offers the most sophisticated historical discussion to date of the massive legal battle fought in the nineteenth century between the federal government and the Mormon Church over the practice of polygamy. In this article, I offer a review of Gordon’s work, identifying its important contributions and situating it within the literature of both American legal history and Mormon history. Finally, I suggest that Gordon’s work offers Mormons an important opportunity to reassess their own legal history and the place of law in their religious thinking.

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7 comments for “Mormonism and Napster for Nerds

  1. Frank McIntyre
    September 11, 2006 at 11:38 am


    That’s an interesting collection you’ve got there. I’m a little surprised that published works are available through SSRN. How does the copyright on that work? By the way, the link for the tithing paper needs some fixin’.

  2. September 11, 2006 at 11:45 am

    Frank: In many cases the authors retain either copyright in their published works or have permission to lisence their use. I fixed the link to the tithing article…

  3. September 11, 2006 at 11:53 am

    I have an SSRN page as well, but haven’t gotten around to putting anything up on it. I ought to correct that…

  4. Rosalynde Welch
    September 12, 2006 at 10:55 am

    How very interesting, Nate. To your knowledge, are you the only Mormon author? I’m struck by the way polygamy continues to define us in so many ways, SSRN representing no exception, it seems.

  5. September 12, 2006 at 11:18 am

    RW: I think that Michael Ransome and Robert McGee are both Mormons, but I don’t know…

  6. Dan Y.
    September 13, 2006 at 9:42 am

    RW, Nate:

    I think Gordon Dahl is Mormon too.

  7. Robert W. McGee
    October 14, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Here is another article about LDS that you might consider posting to your website.
    McGee, Robert W. and Smith, Sheldon R. , \”Ethics, Tax Evasion and Religion: A Survey of Opinion of Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints\” (October 2006). Available at SSRN:

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